Content moderator in Kenya sues Meta over working conditions

NAIROBI, May 10 (Reuters) – A former moderator working for Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc. (FB.O) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that poor working conditions for contracted content moderators violate the Kenyan constitution.

The petition, also filed against Meta’s local outsourcing company, Sama, alleges that workers who moderate Facebook posts in Kenya have been subjected to unreasonable working conditions, including irregular wages, inadequate mental health, anti-union attacks and violations of their privacy and dignity.

The lawsuit, filed by a person on behalf of a group, seeks financial compensation, an order that outsourced moderators have the same health care and pay scale as Meta employees, union rights to be protected and an independent human rights audit of the office.

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A spokesperson for Meta told Reuters: “We take our responsibility to people who review content on Meta seriously and require our partners to provide industry-leading pay, benefits and support. We also encourage content reviewers to raise issues when they become aware of them and conduct regular independent audits to ensure that our partners meet the high standards we expect.

Sama declined to comment before seeing the trial, but previously dismissed allegations that his employees were unfairly paid, the recruitment process was opaque or his mental health benefits were insufficient.

The trial’s specific demands for action are more granular and expansive than those sought in previous cases and could reverberate beyond Kenya.

“It could have ripple effects. Facebook is going to have to reveal a lot about how it runs its moderation operation,” said Odanga Madung, a fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, a US-based global nonprofit dedicated to internet rights.

Globally, thousands of moderators review social media posts that may depict violence, nudity, racism or other offensive content. Many work for third-party contractors rather than tech companies.

Meta has already come under intense scrutiny over the working conditions of content moderators.

Last year, a California judge approved a $85 million settlement between Facebook and more than 10,000 content moderators who had accused the company of failing to protect them from psychological harm resulting from their exposure to graphic and violent imagery.

Facebook has not admitted any wrongdoing in the California case, but has agreed to take steps to provide its content moderators, who are employed by third-party vendors, with safer work environments.

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The Kenyan lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daniel Motaung, recruited in 2019 from South Africa to work for Sama in Nairobi. Motaung says he was not given details of the nature of the Facebook post review work prior to his arrival.

The first video Motaung remembers being moderated was a beheading. The disturbing content piled up, but Motaung says his salary and mental health support were insufficient.

“I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Motaung told Reuters. “I live…a horror movie.”

Motaung’s lawyers said Meta and Sama created an unsafe and degrading environment in which workers did not enjoy the same protections as employees in other countries.

“If in Dublin people can’t watch harmful content for two hours, that should be the rule everywhere,” said Motaung’s lawyer Mercy Mutemi. “If they need an on-call psychologist, that should apply everywhere.”

Shortly after joining Sama, Motaung attempted to form a union to defend the company’s approximately 200 workers in Nairobi.

He was fired soon after, which he and his lawyers say was due to the attempted unionization. Trade union rights are enshrined in the Kenyan constitution.

Sama has not commented on this allegation.

Motaung’s experience was first revealed in an investigation published by Time magazine in February.

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Editing by Katharine Houreld and Carmel Crimmins

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